Sunday, June 26, 2011

Whither Venezuela's Chavez?

Hugo Chavez hasn't been seen in public in more than two weeks. He apparently fell ill while in Cuba and is believed to be in critical condition. Officially, he is being treated for a pelvic abscess, but no one knows what his true condition or ailment is.

Ever since [T]hugo came to power, he's cultivated a cult of personality and attempted to consolidate power in himself. He's surrounded himself with nothing but yes men, and with that situation, no one knows who exactly would assume power should Chavez not recover - or if he's incapacitated for any significant period of time.
The departure of Chavez for so long, particularly from the airwaves that he commandeers frequently in Venezuela, has prompted a heated debate over who would, or should, be in charge of the country. In a government that political analysts say is filled with yes-men who rarely question his decisions, Chavez’s illness has exposed the lack of any reliable leader to replace him.

“He has been centralizing power during 12 years now, putting himself in the foreground as the only and indispensable leader,” Demetrio Boersner, a historian and former Venezuelan diplomat, said by phone from Caracas. “So right now, there is no personality within the governing party that seems like the logical substitute in case it would be necessary to replace him.”

The government’s official account is that Chavez began suffering from abdominal pain during a meeting with Fidel Castro in Havana and was rushed to surgery.

Chavez, who turns 57 next month, soon phoned Venezuela’s main state television station to say he was recovering and there was no “malignant” illness. Officially, the government said that Chavez underwent surgery for a “pelvic abscess,” which is pus in the abdomen brought on by infection or other causes. Government officials said the president continued to sign bills and govern from Cuba, Venezuela’s closest ally.

“We don’t know what this pelvic abscess is about,” said Fernando Coronil, author of “The Magical State,” a book about pre-Chavez Venezuela. “He mentioned that there was some biopsy. There is no malignancy. But given the secrecy and given the delicate situation, we don’t know if that’s actually accurate.”

Since Chavez’s first explanation after the surgery, the only purported messages have been from the president’s Twitter account, the latest on Friday, when he sent a “big hug to my soldiers and my beloved people.”

His brother, Adan, said on Wednesday that Chavez was recuperating. He said the president would remain in Havana for 10 to 12 days, which would put Chavez back in Caracas in time for a previously scheduled summit of Caribbean nations.

No comments: